As a CPA firm consultant, I spend a significant amount of time researching computer equipment, accounting applications, and evaluating consulting methodologies and tools that will make me a better consultant and more useful to accounting firms. Over the past few years I have seen Daniel Burrus speak at various accounting conferences and heard of his work within the CPA profession through the Business Learning Institute (founded by the Maryland Association of CPAs). Because of those connections, I chose to read his book “The Anticipatory Organization” (2017), which focuses business owners on relying upon the absolute “hard” trends that will occur over the questionable “soft” trends that may occur. By understanding the difference, and prioritizing decisions on hard trends, individuals and firms would be able to become more anticipatory of future changes and move their firm towards them rather than stagnating or moving their firm in the entirely wrong direction. The book is broken into four sections which I summarize my key personal takeaways below.
ONE: Know What’s Next-Transform Planning
When discussing future decisions or opportunities, firms should first consider the impact of Hard Trends that will absolutely happen; which Daniel breaks into three categories: Technology, Demographics, and Government Regulations. Without hesitation, most of us would be able to confidently say that technology will continue to evolve (at an increasingly faster pace), Baby Boomers will get older (at least in age), and the government will create more regulations (to protect us in areas such as “cybersecurity and autonomous vehicles”). When a trend is well-researched and backed by absolute facts, it is considered a hard trend, and when there is debate depending on varying points or considerations it is usually a soft trend. Daniel states that soft trends are based on assumptions which are not backed by facts and cited three examples: “Home prices will never go down,” “Saudi Arabia will never let the price of oil crash,” and “the largest financial institutions will never fail.” Daniel goes on to point out that within technology there are three hard trends that we can anticipate will continue to increase: computing power, Internet bandwidth and digital storage, which I see as primary drivers moving firms to adopt cloud applications and hosting providers. Planning that takes into account hard trends over soft trends will have a much stronger chance of success.
TWO: Develop Opportunities-Transform Innovation
The next few chapters dealt with how firms could learn to be innovative and move their practice beyond current competitors. Daniel points out “Eight Hard Trend Pathways to Innovation” that if we ask: “what if,” we will become more attentive and open to innovation happening around us. The eight pathways are: Dematerialization (things will continue to be made smaller), Virtualization (shifting physical items into a virtual format-think servers), Mobility (ability to work anyplace, anytime), Intelligence (AI and sensors will be built into everything!), Networking (everything will be connected), Interactivity (two-way functionality), Globalization (geographical boundaries disappear), and Convergence (combining any of the above trends creates new products or markets). If you want to open the discussion on this, just ask how auditing has changed in the past few years as it has been impacted by every item! (What if computers and displays were smaller, could connect securely from anywhere to all applications, and allow clients and staff to work concurrently?)
THREE: Shape the Future: Transform Culture
This next section spoke to the firm developing a “future view” which would make firm members open to innovation, and also to create a positive culture that would be open to exploring and adopting next evolution tools. One of my key take-away quotes from the chapter entitled “Be the Disrupter, Not the Disrupted” was “If it can be done, it will be done, and if you don’t do it, someone else will.” When firms are evaluating whether to continue doing what they are doing or adopt a new tool, it is sometimes possible to do both; continuing to support the existing solution for legacy clients AND adopting the new solutions for innovative clients, so the firm can evolve.
FOUR: Accelerate Success-Transform Results
The final section starts out by stating the one absolute certainty about the future is that “it is about relationships,” and for firms to thrive we must address a problem that most of us are aware of, and that is the generational gaps. I pulled from these chapters that there is a lack of trust and confidence between the various extremes which firms must proactively target improved communications amongst firm members (with millennials sharing effective use of technologies and boomers sharing institutional skills and useful historical information) to create a common “future view.” Daniel discusses the use of a Time Travel Audit to open communications and improve relationships amongst firm personnel.
Overall, my core takeaway was that when firms prioritize strategic decisions that are backed by absolute hard facts and supported by the hard pathways to innovation, they will develop a stronger future view and be more likely to evolve their practices towards a more successful future. Hiding behind the status quo is a dead-end path that will cause practices to atrophy until there is nothing left. If you would like to develop your own future view or find the concepts above intriguing, I would encourage you to get the book and read it with a highlighter and pen as I did.
This article was originally published on The CPA Firm Management Association’s blog and has been modified for the audience of this blog. Copying or distribution without the publisher’s permission is prohibited.